Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lonergrin

That’s not a typo but a reference to an inside joke with M. Sullivan going back to our Newman bookstore days. Oldest friend, bitterest foe, here’s to you, buddy.

I happened to pick up Lonergan’s Verbum articles the other day, which caused me to think back to my early undergraduate days. I was a brash young Seventh-Day-Adventist soon to be entangled in the coils of popery, and was just getting into philosophy. And yes, I was a die-hard Thomist. The first book of philosophy I read was that James F. Anderson anthology of Thomistic metaphysics (of which I now possess an autographed copy). This was followed by Aristotle’s Categories, then Thomas’s commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, followed by a simultaneous read of Maritain’s Degrees of Knowledge and Lonergan’s Insight.

As I’ve been reading Scotus on matters Trinitarian of late, I decided to flip through Lonergan’s Verbum articles, and see if he had any opinions on say, the formal distinction. In the process I came across a rather startling phrase. Now, those that know me know that I have a knack for picking out shocking phrases at random (indeed, even my girlfriend now knows this feature of mine, after I skimmed through a lengthy bio of Cranmer over the weekend); but this was not one of those times. Scotus had a rather large entry in the index. So here is the quote:

“Kant, whose critique was not of the pure reason but of the human mind as conceived by Scotus, repeatedly affirmed that our intellects are purely discursive, that all intuition is sensible (p. 39-40 CW 2).”

Obviously its the first part of the sentence that’s the shocker, but seemed fairer to include the second. Lonergan goes on in a lengthy footnote to show Scotus’s mechanical view of cognition, rejection of “insight” into the phantasm, a “nexus” of concepts (or may just a concept; I can’t tell what the subject of Lonergan’s sentence is here) not being accidents in the intellect, and so on. Most of this doesn’t really matter, as Lonergan references a long series of passages from the spurious De modis significandi (known to be by Thomas of Erfurt but maybe word never got around; it fooled Heidegger as well), and after all, Scotist scholarship was in its infancy at the time and Scotus wasn’t the primary object of his book. It is an interesting area for research; Boulnois has a book with a promising title, but he seemed more concerned at the end (the part I read) to show how the 13th century shifted into onto-theology which runs through Leibniz and into Kant. But he didn't seem to make the further claims of say Marion or "RO" that onto-thelogy=modernity=bad. Also, Kant probably never read Scotus; Boulnois suggests that it was Suarez's metaphysical disputations that mediated scholastic thought to the early moderns.

10 comments:

CrimsonCatholic said...

This explains a great deal. I kept coming across interpretations lumping Suarez and Scotus together (recently, Neil Ormerod and Ralph McInerny), and they had me thinking "That can't really be right, can it?" Ormerod said something to the effect that Scotus had inverted concept and understanding (following Lonergan), and McInerny pointed out that Scotus and Suarez both denied the real distinction between existence and essence, with nary a mention of the formal distinction. But since I am only barely familiar with the subtle doctor myself, I couldn't articulate what was wrong with the characterization. It's comforting that people who know Scotus better than I have found the references odd. I wonder if there is some inertia at work here.

Have you looked at Cajetan's critique of Scotus's metaphysics? This apparent misinterpretation might have some old roots.

Lee Faber said...

It's worse for Ockham; I read somewhere in a collection of articles on Ockham that in successive editions of a certain neothomistic manuel more and more erroeneous positions were attributed to him.

On the whole, I don't think a lot of thomists actually do read scotus. without a pretty serious background in scholastic thought he's almost unintelligible. McInerny has said some pretty strange things about Scotus which I can only assume come from the thomist tradition. Gilson, for example, wrote a book on scotus back around the time when the first vol. of the critical edition came out, which gets quoted all the time by thomists or otherwise non scotistic scholars, even though it was outdated as soon as it was published as Gilson missed the fact that scotus's opponent is henry of ghent, not thomas.

I've looked at cajetan's commentaries in the summa where he criticizes scotus but wasn't very impressed. Apparently (i read this in the same lonergan book) he admitted to having at one point a scotistic view of the beatific vision (which lonergan took as bad); but that kind of makes sense, as Trottmann has argued that scotistic languate went into the formulation of Benedictus Deus.

Lee Faber said...

Oh yes; as to the distinction between essence and existence, Scotus does famously say in his qq. on IV Sentences that he knows nothing of that fiction which says that essence and existence are really distinct. he promises a lengthy refutation (which he never got around to) and moves onto something else. but he never gave his own position. Some scholars back in the early 20th cen. wanted to say that he did hold to a formal distinction there, but this hasn't been established definitively. I think we might need to wait for a few more things to get edited, whether of scotus himself or of the early scotist school.

Lee Faber said...

Perhaps impressed isn't the right word. bewildered is more accurate. In response to scotus's argument from certain and doubtful concepts (for univocity) he says something ot the effect of, aha, but they're still one by unity of analogy. which isn't really relevant. But i haven't read him enough to see what he says about concepts and intellection.

CrimsonCatholic said...

It sounds like there is systematic reliance on second- or third-hand information then, without much criticism of the received "wisdom" in light of Scotus's own texts. And given that there are errors that are only just being corrective in the relatively obsessive study of St. Thomas, I imagine that these will be slow in being corrected. It's just one more reason that I am glad to have your blog, because on the Scotist side, there are even fewer reality checks for prevailing opinion. Thanks for sharing your investigations into the primary sources with us.

Lee Faber said...

The Thomists are only partly to blame, I think (though I do get rather incensed at times); something as simple as the canon of scotus's genuine writings has only been established in the past 80 years or so. many spurious works have been attributed to him, as well as numerous interpolations and manuscript errors hindering the understanding of even the genuine works.

Drew said...

Just out of curiosity, what is your take on Kant's overall critique of metaphysics and epistemology as given in the first Critique, and how it relates to Scotus's own understanding. Copleston dealt with this somewhat from a quasi-Thomistic viewpoint in Vol. 2 of his "History of Philosophy," but it did not go into quite enough detail. It often seems that Kant unwittingly commits the petitio principii fallacy and creates false dilemmas with his Antinomies. I would be curious to know your thoughts on the matter.

Lee Faber said...

Hopefully my fellow blogger Michael could answer this in more detail. I haven't read Kant since undergrad, and knew nothing about Scotus at the time. So I can't say much about how it might relate to Scotus. As far as I know, Kant probably never read Scotus, and only knew of his positions via Suarez's metaphysical disputations (and Suarez doesn't get Scotus right on univocity, being, etc.). I was once in a class with Richard Cross who made the remark that Scotus ideas on the nature of metaphysics initiate a way of looking at metaphysics that leads to Leibniz (analyzing our own concepts instead of analyzing the world), so take that for what's it worth.

The Idler said...

Wow...another SDA who followed the truth where it lead.
Good to see friend. Pax,
J.

Lee Faber said...

There are a few of us out there.